Wake a sleeping tiger, p.12
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       Wake A Sleeping Tiger, p.12
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         Part #22 of Breeds series by Lora Leigh

  ulled one of his files forward and prepared to open it.

  As though he had the final say in the matter.

  “That is where you’re wrong.” She came to her feet quickly, her voice rising with her anger as his head jerked up, surprise gleaming in his eyes. Slapping her hands on the front of his desk, she leaned forward, the surging intensity of her anger refusing to allow her to back down or lower her voice.

  “This operation damned well did depend on her as well as her mated status. Reorganize your own goddamned group. You won’t get a chance to fire me. I quit,” she yelled.

  Jerking her hands back from the table, she turned to leave.

  “You could have warned me of your parameters, Cassie,” he snapped behind her.

  “Warned you?” As she swung around, outrage snapped in her tone. “It was my operation,” she yelled back at him furiously. “Mine. Your other team leaders don’t explain every damned detail to you.”

  “When it’s important, they do,” he growled, the sound demanding she back down.

  “Like hell they do,” she cried furiously. “Trust me, Rule, every damned one of them has an agenda in their little operations that you don’t know a damned thing about.”

  She was shaking, so furious now a haze of red was threatening to mar her gaze.

  “Dammit, Cassie, settle down,” he ordered, giving a hard shake of his head as he heard the door open.

  “Oh, Rule, let him come in,” she sneered, enraged now, the scent of the arriving Coyote infuriating her. “Aren’t you just so threatened by little ole me?” she laughed mockingly. “I’ll be ready to leave in an hour. You can shove this position and you can shove your parameters while you’re at it because I’m done here.”

  “Cassie!” The sharp command in his voice had her pausing. “Why is Chelsea so important to this operation?”

  She turned back to him slowly.

  “Because I decided she was important to this operation,” she bit out between clenched teeth. “And I resent that question, Rule, because we both know you would have never questioned one of your male commanders similarly.” She shook her head. She should have known better. “Get that jet ready. I’m done here.”

  This time when she turned from him she swept from the room, ignoring the Breeds outside the door, especially those team members she’d more or less tattled on.

  She was tired of dealing with their certainty that she would fail and their fear of her. Every one of them. They wouldn’t look her in the eye and they stank of their wariness that she’d learn their secrets.

  She didn’t have to learn them, she already knew them. Each and every one of them. And even more, she knew the holes they were digging for themselves. Holes she could have helped them out of.

  If she had stayed.

  Cullen’s head jerked up from the file he was reading, Chelsea’s scent crashing into him. It wasn’t the scent of arousal that had a growl rumbling in his throat, though. It was the scent of her anger.

  The scent of her pain.

  She stormed into his office, the door slamming behind her with enough force to rattle the glass.

  Cullen rose slowly to his feet, frowning at the overbright eyes and flushed cheeks, the scent of pain and betrayal sliding around him like icy tendrils.

  “Thank you.” Her voice was husky as her gaze went around the room, taking in the stacks of files, books lying about that needed replacing on the shelves. “For making a mess of this office.” She dropped her pack into the chair in front of his desk, controlled the trembling of her lips and forced a bright smile to her lips. “Saved my position, did you, Cullen?”

  He glanced around the room before returning his gaze to her. “The commissioner hasn’t approved the stupidity tests yet.” He shrugged, then tipped his head curiously. “What’s wrong, baby?”

  She flashed him a look of pain-filled mockery. “How can you ask that question with a straight face?”

  “Because I have no idea what the hell is going on,” he answered. “And I can’t do anything about it if I don’t know what I’ve done.”

  All that anger and pain was definitely directed at him, though.

  As shocking as it was, he could feel the tears she was holding inside.

  “Have I ever asked you to fix anything for me, Cullen?” she demanded then, one hand settling on a cocked hip. “At any time have I asked you to fix any damned thing for me?”

  He moved, positioning himself in front of the desk and leaning back against it as he forced himself to be patient.

  “You were always welcome to ask,” he snapped.

  “The only thing I ever wanted from you, you couldn’t give me. You wouldn’t give me,” she cried out, her finger stabbing toward him furiously. “Not only did you refuse to even consider allowing me to do more than these messy damned files for you, but you then destroyed the office I spent years organizing. Were you so desperate to get your menial help back that you just had to have me fired, Cullen? That you couldn’t even allow me to work for anyone else?”

  Cullen stared back at her in shock.

  “Fired?” he questioned her with a growl. “Chelsea, I didn’t have you fired. What the hell happened?”

  The look she shot him was frankly disbelieving.

  “You called Rule,” she yelled back at him hoarsely, that sense of hurt and betrayal washing over him like a bitter breeze.

  “The hell I did,” he snapped. “I never mentioned firing you. I informed him, officially, of my now-active Breed status and of our mating status. Nothing more.”

  “It was officially none of his business,” she cried out, her dark eyes burning with anger. “That was our business alone.”

  For a woman who knew so many Breeds he often wondered if she had any human friends, her knowledge of the Breed society was shockingly inadequate.

  “Chelsea, honey.” He gripped the edge of the desk behind him in frustration. “The moment my Breed status went active I was required to alert him because of my position in law enforcement. And all Breeds are required to inform either their alphas or the Bureau when they mate. I have no alpha.” And he intended to keep it that way. “So I notified Rule. And that was the extent of our conversation.”

  “Rule fired me,” she whispered, licking her lips before giving a little shrug that looked far too much like defeat. “He said the Mating Heat scent would keep me from getting information.” She shot him a bitter smile. “You got what you wanted after all. What did you say? There’s no cure?” Her smile was too bright and too filled with hurt. “Congratulations, Cullen. Dad will be overjoyed. Granddad will be proud as hell.”

  And it hurt her so deep that Cullen wasn’t certain he could fix it.

  “I’ll call Rule . . .”

  Chelsea was shaking her head even as he spoke. “Please don’t do that, Cullen. I don’t want or need that good-ole-boy network to fix a damned thing for me.” Her smile was tight and hard. “Look at it this way, all that angst over protecting me just got easier.”

  Got what he wanted?

  “You actually believe I wanted to see you hurt like this?” he demanded, staring at her in disbelief. “For God’s sake. If I wanted to get you fired, Chelsea, I could have done it a hell of a lot easier without making myself look like the bad guy. And I sure as hell wouldn’t have used our mating to do it. The last thing I want you to do is resent your bond with me.”

  He rubbed at the back of his neck in irritation as the anger continued to glitter in her eyes.

  Before he could say anything more, a hard knock sounded at the door, causing her to flinch slightly before she controlled it.

  “What?” he snapped, his irritation growing.

  The door eased open and one of the junior agents poked his head in warily. “Sorry, Commander, but Director Breaker from Breed Affairs is out here. He’s demanding to speak to Ms. Martinez.” The agent flashed her a smile. “Hey there, Chelsea. It’s good to see you again.”

  “Hey, Rylan.” She returned the greeting
, her smile tight. “Tell Director Breaker to—”

  “Go to hell?” Rule stepped into the office and flashed Cullen a glare. “Don’t bother, Cassie took care of it for you.”

  Pinching the bridge of his nose, Cullen bit back a frustrated curse.

  “You’re damned sure trying to make my life hell,” Cullen informed him, staring back at the other Breed with a flat, hard warning. “Keep it up and we’re going to have words.”

  Rule eyed him suspiciously. “You’re not crazy enough to be a Bengal. Too damned calm.”

  “Rule, I’m going to kill you,” Cullen stated, restraining a growl threatening to rumble in his chest.

  “Well, join the club.” Rule grimaced before turning to Chelsea. “Will an apology suffice or must I grovel?”

  Moving past Rule, Cullen stomped to the door and closed it in Rylan’s far-too-curious face. Son of a bitch, this morning was flat going to hell.

  Moving between Rule and Chelsea, he gave in to the imperative demand to go to Chelsea.

  He ignored the need to stand between her and the Bureau director, opting to move behind her instead and keep a careful eye on the Breed.

  “I’ll grovel if I have to.” Rule kept the growl from his voice, Cullen noticed in amusement. “Or you can accept my apology and the fact that I’ll owe you a hell of a debt and come back to the Bureau; otherwise that tyrant personality Cassie unleashed on me will get on a heli-jet she ordered me to have ready and fly back home. The little wench quit on me. Every Breed I know is going to go nuts on me when they find out I was the Breed who caused her to lose her temper.”

  Chelsea stared back at Rule, certain she misunderstood. Cassie wouldn’t have quit. She had just told her and Ashley how important that job was to her. She wouldn’t just walk away.

  “Chelsea, I have less than thirty minutes here.” Rule breathed out heavily, shoving his hands in the pockets of his dark slacks and so obviously trying not to glare at her. “I’ll owe you a really huge debt,” he gritted out, his gaze flickering to Cullen as though asking for help.

  Cullen could only shrug. He’d damned well love to have that debt owed to him, well aware of the boon Rule was offering.

  “Fine,” Chelsea finally muttered. “But you owe two debts. One to me and one to Cullen.”

  Outrage snapped in Rule’s expression. “How the hell do I owe him a debt?”

  “Because you almost got him fired,” she stated with obvious irritation. “I think that would suck for a mate. And he was starting to get really worried I was serious too.”

  Rule wasn’t convinced. “You can’t fire a mate and he knows it.”

  “And you’re running out of time,” she pointed out.

  A grimace crossed the director’s face, but he gave a short, abrupt nod. “Can we go now?”

  Turning to Cullen, she shot him a challenging look before grabbing her pack and moving for the door.

  Before Rule could turn away, Cullen gave the Breed a hard warning look. Rule’s acknowledging nod had Cullen breathing out a heavy sigh before stepping to the door and watching his mate leave.

  Every Breed instinct he possessed demanded he follow her and keep her in sight. If he tried that, no doubt she’d have something to say about it. Something he was sure he wouldn’t want to hear.

  Having an independent mate was going to be the death of him.

  She was making him crazy.

  Following behind her pickup in his Dragoon that evening, Cullen stared at the back of her head broodingly. Damn, he could shoot Graeme for not warning him that Chelsea was listening in on their conversation the night before.

  His brother’s hearing was preternatural; she couldn’t have slipped up on him, and from the look on his brother’s face, Cullen knew she’d not surprised Graeme in the least.

  Graeme had let her hear every word, and Cullen still couldn’t figure out why his brother had done so. What did it matter now, the events that happened so many years before. Lauren was dead, the past was dead, and his mating to Chelsea had no bearing on it any more than his feelings on the mating mattered at this point.

  She’d misunderstood what she’d heard, though.

  There were so many things she didn’t understand, and he wasn’t a man who did explanations easily. Especially explanations where his marriage and his late wife were concerned. And there were so many things she didn’t understand about his feelings for her.

  Hell, even he didn’t understand his feelings for her, and he’d had the past four years to try to make sense of it. He’d hired her as his assistant just because the pull she exerted him on him whenever she was around confused the hell out of him. And he couldn’t blame that one on a mating.

  Touching his tongue to a canine, he grimaced at the knowledge that it seemed to have dropped lower from his jaw. His gums ached like a son of a bitch, and knowing that those awakened genetics were going to be impossible to hide irritated the hell out of him.

  When had it begun?

  He frowned, trying to pinpoint exactly when the changes had begun occurring.

  Chelsea’s resignation the morning she’d arrived at the house about five weeks ago, he realized. His gums had begun aching just after that. He’d put it down to his habit of gritting his teeth, something else that had begun after her resignation. The cinnamon taste in his mouth at odd times, the unbidden growls that had rumbled in his chest when he was extremely frustrated.

  The signs of the awakening genetics had been there, but he’d marked them down to coincidences. After all, it hadn’t been the first time that animalistic rumble had built in his throat. The restless irritation and even the flashes of advanced eyesight, hearing and strength had been common over the years.

  And he could connect all those flashes distinctly to instances when Chelsea had been around. The Bengal inside him hadn’t roused until she’d challenged him, though. Until she’d left and refused to return.

  He shouldn’t have let her leave the Agency.

  He knew that now.

  If he’d just let her have a place in Command, she would have stayed. But that would have meant having no chance to escape whatever it was she made him feel whenever he was around her too much.

  It was the hunger for her.

  His hands clenched on the steering wheel. The physical, aching hunger he hadn’t wanted to acknowledge, hadn’t wanted to give in to, had roused the beast within him.

  He wished he could put the bastard back to sleep.

  And if his brother’s troublemaking tendencies weren’t enough, Rule had decided to add his particular brand of bullshit to it. The least he and Graeme could do was take turns making his life hell instead of trying to drive him insane in one day.

  Staying close as Chelsea drove through Window Rock, he followed her first through the drive-thru of a popular coffeehouse, again. The size of the cup of coffee the employee handed out the window had him wincing in acknowledgment of her sheer stubbornness.

  The woman could give lessons to a mule on sheer determined pride.

  And she had enough pride for a dozen Breeds, let alone one little woman.

  That determination could well end up getting her killed if he wasn’t careful. The two Breeds trailing them were good, he’d give them that. Draeger and Tobias were about the best security team he’d run across. But even the best made mistakes.

  Every instinct Cullen possessed warned him that Chelsea was in a hell of a lot more trouble than any of them suspected.

  The Coyote who’d attacked her was a known Genetics Council soldier. He hadn’t attempted to abduct her, he’d tried to kill her. The fact that she’d managed to stay alive long enough for the two Wolf Breeds shadowing her to get to her amazed Cullen. No Breed, especially one who still followed the Genetics Council, was that damned sloppy. They were too well trained and too damned fanatical when it came to their orders.

  So what the hell was really going on?

  As he pondered that question, he drew to a stop directly behind Chelsea at the final traff
ic light at the end of town, his gaze scanning the area. Draeger and Tobias were two vehicles behind in the beige SUV they were driving that day.

  Traffic appeared normal, as did the pedestrians moving along the sidewalks. Nothing seemed unusual. No glints of sunlight on gunsights, nothing to indicate any danger, but his instincts were humming. Hell, they’d been humming since Chelsea had resigned and he’d been too damned distracted to figure out why.

  He should have convinced her to ride from the Bureau with him and made Tobias drive her truck, he thought, catching her gaze in the rearview mirror, but she’d argued she could drive the damned thing herself. And he was trying, God knew he was trying to let her have a measure of that independence while still protecting her.

  The light turned green.

  The second traffic began moving, it happened.

  The dark SUV in the turn lane at her left didn’t turn, the lighter-colored pickup to her right dropped back and from the side street a heavy panel van raced into the intersection, slamming into the side of Chelsea’s truck as the SUV to the left swung around to hem her in, almost cutting Cullen off from her.

  The carefully calculated strike moved like slow motion through Cullen’s senses as adrenaline spiked through his brain and the animal, normally unresponsive and uncaring, surged awake and took control with a ferocity he couldn’t have expected.

  Man and tiger merged so seamlessly, it was as though they had never been separate. And hovering just beyond was a madness he didn’t stop to consider. Not yet.

  Cullen jerked the military-grade automatic weapon he kept secured behind the passenger seat free as the Dragoon rocked to a stop. He was out of the vehicle before the men in the SUV next to her could react.

  They hadn’t expected resistance, depending on shock and awe to delay Chelsea’s security as well as her response to the attack.

  A roar tore past his throat.

  Lifting the rifle to his shoulder, he fired quickly, laying a spray of bullets along the passenger-side door of the car and taking out two of the would-be attackers. Sprinting for the truck, he aimed and fired on the van, forcing the attackers to take cover as he jerked open the door of the truck and hauled Chelsea from the seat.

  The occupants of the lighter-colored SUV rushed from the vehicle when Cullen turned his weapon on them, attempting to help Chelsea from her truck at the same time.

  Not that she needed much help, damn her. The second the door came open she all but tumbled out, a snub-nosed automatic personal defense weapon in her hands, her gaze filled with cold, hard determination.

  Her hair was mussed, her face pale, a smear of blood on her reddened forehead attesting to a bruise that would be forming quickly, but she was lucid and moving quickly to cover him.

  “Stay down,” he yelled as horns erupted, the clash of several vehicles colliding behind them a distant sound in his brain as Draeger and Tobias raced to their side.

  Automatic gunfire peppered her truck as the men in the van, four in all now, fired back, their plan to attack a single defenseless woman suddenly backfiring.

  They’d planned for Draeger and Tobias, but not Cullen. They would have separated her from the two Wolf Breeds trailing her with the deliberate chaos, taken her and been gone before the two Breeds could get to her.

  At least, that had been their plan.

  Within seconds, though, Draeger and Tobias joined Cullen, and heartbeats later six other Breeds from surrounding vehicles were spreading out, armed and going after the four men in the van.

  “Clear the streets.” Chelsea pushed at Tobias as he tried to hem her in between himself and Draeger. “Stop worrying about me, dammit, and secure the civilians.”

  Bullets sprayed the street as frightened cries echoed around him. Cullen worked with the Breeds to contain the shooters, whose plans had suddenly exploded around them. His plan was to stay at Chelsea’s side, to cover her while the others contained the shooters. Instead, she stayed at his side as he covered the others, keeping the shooters pinned down while the six enforcers moved on the van and her security team pushed those too frightened to run toward safety.

  It took no more than mere minutes before the sound of exploding ammunition and enraged curses from the men facing defeat was over. Three were dead, but there was still one left to question.

  And through the entire attack, Chelsea’s calm flowed through him, shocking him with his knowledge of it, with her composure and ability to handle the danger.

  “Contained,” a Coyote Breed Enforcer who’d joined the melee shouted out after a quick look inside the van.

  “Nation Police are heading in,” another enforcer called out as Cullen strode to the area. “Round them up.”

  He stared down at the three dead men, their hardened, scarred faces not unknown to him. These weren’t Genetics Council soldiers. They weren’t Breeds who followed their deranged trainers or known associates. They were hardened criminals and part of a group Cullen and his agents had been tracking for more than a year.

  What the hell were they doing here?

  “Those are Cerves gang members,” Chelsea said softly at his shoulder as she tucked her weapon at the small of her back. “This could be really bad.”

  “Really bad” didn’t even begin to define it. Especially if the Blood Queen was looking to punish Chelsea for not getting her daughter to her in time. “Two of them are Cerves’s top lieutenants,” he agreed, staring down at her with narrowed eyes. “Did you tell anyone about that night?”

  “No way, no how.” Chelsea shook her head, keeping her voice low. And he hadn’t told anyone, even Graeme. Especially Graeme.

  “The surviving attacker likes to talk,” Draeger stated as he moved to them, his gaze flashing with savage fury. “The cartel received a contract to kill Chelsea. They were going to kidnap her and ransom her for money to the Genetics Council when they were told she was a Breed mate.” His eyes flashed dangerously. “She was considered an easy mark.”

  An easy mark?

  She wasn’t an easy mark, and Cerves would learn that one fast enough.

  “Let’s go.” Gripping Chelsea’s arm, he tugged her after him, heading for the Dragoon.
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